Amritpal Singh, 2016 presidential candidate, beats the tambourine announcing the return of the campus favourite during the student council elections: the street play, ‘Mela Votaan Da’ (Festival of Votes), staged by the Students For Society (SFS) every year.
Hostellers are out of their rooms, some standing with the crowd, others watching from their balconies or peeping from their windows. The girls’ hostel 8 on the Panjab University south campus is the actors’ stage as the crowd cheers and laughs along.
“We expose the underbelly of the student politics. In a way, with our satirical performance, we set the agenda for the election and have been doing so since we got into the race,” claims Gurpreet Doni, one of the actors in the play.
Fondly called ‘sarkari’ by one and all, Doni is known to be the “eyes and ears” of the campus. Directed by English research scholar Vinod Bharti, the play has a similar structure each time but the script is changed according to what goes down during election time; the play is focusing on alliances this year. Doni, Sajan, Navjeet and Gobinder Tarlochan parodied prominent student leaders and even presidential candidates.
Anuj Singh, who is contesting as the presidential candidate of the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), vice-president candidate Hardik Ahluwalia from the Law Students’ Union (LSU), senior NSUI leader Manoj Lubana, Sachin Galav whose presidential nomination was cancelled due to an FIR and PUCSC 2017 joint secretary Karanbir Singh Randhawa, among others, all found a mention in the play.
Branded as a “dummy” candidate, Anuj Singh was parodied as doing Lubana’s bidding while Ahluwalia’s LSU was termed ‘lassi’ group. Randhawa from the Indian Students’ Association (ISA) was ridiculed for forming an alliance with the Students Organisation of India (SOI), the party that he left last year to join the ISA and contest the election.
“Whatever we show somehow does not happen next year. We create the atmosphere we want to. Have you seen too many posters this time? We talked about the rampant use of posters last year,” adds Doni confidently.
He claims that the money muscle politics has gone down solely because they made it a topic of interest, adding that the speeches and campaigns of other parties are also affected by their play, the most recent example being the agenda of women empowerment that the SFS highlighted in 2016.
However, this year, the SFS is late in staging their signature play. The actors say they found it hard to conjure up a vision in the initial phase of the election.
“We had a structure, but did not have a vision because things were moving slowly. The natak was not ready, but the alliances gave us something to talk about. We’re adding another scene on Tuesday, but want it to be a surprise,” says Doni.
A meme ridiculing Doni, who used to be a member of the Students’ Organisation of Panjab University (SOPU), is doing the rounds on the social media. But with three more shows of ‘Mela Votaan Da’ scheduled for Tuesday, will Doni have the last laugh?
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